Carol Gavhane: Surviving infertility and loss to create a purpose-driven life
As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police. This is a continuation of the systemic racism pervasive in our country since its inception and we are committed to standing against racism in all its forms.
On the heels of my interview with Court Wakefield, who underwent fertility treatment and an NICU stay with their wife and daughter, this week’s interview with Carol Gavhane treads similar topics. Carol survived seemingly endless secondary infertility and pregnancy loss, ending up with two children from seven pregnancies. My conversation with Carol brought up a lot of memories of my own infertility and pregnancy loss more than 18 years ago, in addition to the reactions of some people in my life who I thought were my friends.
And pregnancies were not the only loss Carol has experienced. Her sister Wanda suddenly died when Carol was just 27 years old. Carol’s son Henry finally arrived early and small and had an NICU stay like Court’s daughter and my son. As a biracial Korean-American and raised by a single mom who spoke limited English, Carol had a hard time fitting in as a young girl. Carol and her husband were inspired by their walk with secondary infertility to found Asha Blooms, a handcrafted purposeful jewelry company.
Born in Sacramento, California, Carol was raised by her mom and grandmother. Her parents met in Korea on an air force base, but they divorced when she was young. Growing up in a second-generation immigrant family was tough. Her grandmother could not speak English at all, and Carol and her sister had to be responsible for translations.
“You have to grow up a little faster than the norm…You’re the primary set of eyes…A part of me felt a little resentful, because other kids did not have to translate things.”
Because she is mixed race, Carol didn’t feel like she fit in either world. She remembers filling out forms, but not being able to find a category that fit her (similar to what Court Wakefield experienced a few years ago when filling out a hospital form). Carol’s experiences shaped who she is as an adult, and she ended up marrying a man who is also mixed race. (Her husband Amar is half-Indian.)
Carol got pregnant with her first child, Ophelia, very easily, but had excessive bleeding and a difficult delivery. After Ophelia’s birth, Carol told her husband she didn’t want to have another baby after the birth trauma she’d experienced. But 4 months later she was ready to try again because her love for her baby was so overflowing. Before Ophelia turned one, they started trying for Baby #2.
Carol had an intuition that something was going on and the next baby would not be as easy. She soon got pregnant and had a miscarriage. It would be the first of five miscarriages she would experience.
Her doctor sent her to a fertility clinic, and she received a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve for her age. The clinic recommended one cycle of IUI or going straight to IVF.
The next time Carol got pregnant, it ended up being an ectopic pregnancy.
Unfortunately her husband was out of town and she was new to Seattle, so she had to go to the ER on her own with her toddler. They gave Carol methotrexate to stop the cells from growing and then she miscarried at home.
“I remember going in, checking my HCG hormone levels, hoping they were going down after taking the methotrexate…I remember going in on Christmas eve, and then New Year’s Eve, thinking this is so depressing. It’s supposed to be such a happy time, but it was not.”
Carol then did a round of IVF, and she was elated when it worked and they found a heartbeat. But unfortunately the embryo had implanted a millimeter away from her c-section scar, which would jeopardize Carol’s life as the baby grew. “That was one of the things that really broke me,” she said.
“I don’t think people understand that when you go through loss after loss, after you see a heartbeat, it’s such a heavy grief.”
She was sent to a radiologist to get good imagery and see if there was any way to save the baby. Unfortunately there was not and she miscarried again at home, but she had to have a D&C because not all of the content was removed. She was glad to be at the hospital, because after the D*C she continued to bleed and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. They tried a number of interventions to save her uterus and her life, and she almost had to have a hysterectomy. The whole experience left her feeling traumatized.
The IVF itself was traumatic.
“This is all you think about 24 hours a day. It consumes you. You become addicted to it. And I actually became addicted to hope…the hope that the next thing, the next intervention…was going to help me complete my family. All I wanted was two kids."
I shared my own experience with infertility, because I had four miscarriages myself after my first child was born at 24 weeks gestation. I came to fear ultrasounds, and Carol could relate.
I asked her what it was like in the infertility community, since she already had a baby. Carol admitted that she did feel out of place.
“Who am I to sit there and talk about my problems? Infertility is very lonely, and secondary infertility is a different kind of lonely.”
In the four-year period between Ophelia’s and Henry’s births, when she had five pregnancy losses, “ I had a lot of loss, my body was worn down, I was mentally depleted, and I just didn’t feel like carrying on. But somehow you find a way and day by day, one foot in front of the next…”
I shared how my husband suggested we stop trying when I kept having miscarriages, but I wanted my son to have a sibling. Carol agreed…and she shared that she could see that another child was part of her future. She wanted another baby to love on, but she also wanted to gift her daughter with a sibling.
Her pregnancy with Henry, using her banked embryos, was her last hope. She had talked with a surrogacy agency and had the contract in place to take the next step. The pregnancy was touch and go, because she had excessive bleeding (just as I did with my first pregnancy). Every morning she would wake up on eggshells. At one point in the pregnancy she thought she was going to lose him.
“You’re never at peace, never at rest.”
Visiting her in-laws in Ohio when she was 13-14 weeks along, she had a huge gush of blood that sent her to the ER. And then at the ER, she passed something that looked like a fetus.
“At this moment I was beyond hysterical. I gave up at this moment. I remember tears in my eyes…I was in such a place of vulnerability. I looked over at my husband, and he took my hand and I said, ‘I am done. I cannot do this any more. Maybe we’re a family of three, but I give up. It’s just too much.’”
But when she had an ultrasound to check the baby, they saw the heartbeat. “And I lost it again, and this time like a happy, ‘I can’t believe it’ moment.”
After flying home to Seattle and being grounded for the rest of the pregnancy, she began going in three times a week for testing around week 20.
By week 27, it looked like Henry had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). One of the procedures they’d taken to save her uterus was preventing proper blood flow to the baby. When her doctor said, “We have to prepare you for a NICU stay,” Carol told her she didn’t know if she could do it.
By week 33, Carol was put on hospital bedrest. Two days later the baby was in distress, so in the middle of the night, Carol was told, “I need to get you on all fours because we’ve lost the baby’s heartbeat.” Carol was all alone because her husband was at home with Ophelia. They wheeled Carol into surgery and had to put her under by general anesthetic. She learned later that the medical team thought the baby would not survive. But Henry was a survivor—he emerged weighing 3 pounds, 14 ounces. He had to stay in the NICU for 3 weeks.
Since Carol was new to Seattle, most of her friend network was around the country. She tended to rotate relying on her friends for support throughout her infertility process because she didn’t want them to feel bad or responsible for the hard times. Fortunately she also made a great friend in Seattle, Liz, who was her rock and would take her to the NICU when Amar was working. We also shared stories of friends who were not able to handle our miscarriages.
After Henry was born, she was hit with the reality that life is fragile, and you only get one shot at it.
“All of a sudden, I felt like I was jolted awake by it.”
Carol had an idea to create jewelry that brings people hope. She had an amethyst fertility bracelet that was a great comfort to her.
“I felt like it brought me some hope. It was something I could hold. It became more than a good luck charm…it became meaningful.”
She pitched her idea to her husband, who loved it. Now Asha Blooms is their full-time business. Carol creates the jewelry and the messaging, while Amar does all the backup stuff.
Asha Blooms is handcrafted, purposeful jewelry intended to uplift and inspire, “to acknowledge and empower the wearer, to remind you that you can do hard things, that you are enough, that you are loved, that you are still standing…I wrote all of these intentions for me when I was going through the infertility road years of that journey, and that’s what we’ve been doing for a little over two years.”
Carol shared some of the challenges of the business, being a first-time business owner AND jewelry designer. She also had to overcome other people’s skepticism, especially her mother’s. It’s so much easier to work in a corporate environment, knowing what is expected of you, but being a business owner has so many rewards. Asha Blooms uses ethically sourced materials, and they donate a portion of all sales to nonprofits.
“I get to do something I really enjoy. It brings so much fulfillment to me personally, and I did not have that when I was doing my other jobs.”
Carol has also gotten involved in lobbying Congress to make fertility treatment and adoption services available to everyone.
“Because infertility changed my life and my perspective on life. It was such a difficult and dark journey. I really wanted to be a voice for other people who were unable to speak during their time of darkness.”
She went to Washington DC with the infertility organization RESOLVE to meet with members of congress.
Carol’s a reader, and she recommended Michelle Obama’s book Belonging. I concurred and suggested she listen to Michelle’s incredible podcast, which consists of a lovely conversation with family members and friends! I also recommended the excellent book Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which is about a Korean family whose history stretches across time and both Korea and Japan.
I asked Carol whose grit and resilience story inspires her, and she said her mom, who came to this country with her husband and child. Her mom felt like she had to leave her husband, who was an alcoholic.
“My mom realized, ‘I can stay and raise my two kids, or I can leave for the unknown and to make a life for these children.’ She chose the latter…she left the base with tears streaming down her eyes.”
Her mom just voted for the first time ever at age 73.
“Life in the United States was not as she anticipated; a lot of hard times because of her profession and just trying to make it work for us…and raising mixed-race kids (she did not know how to do that).”
Her mom also experienced the death of her daughter when Carol’s sister died in her 20s from a sudden heart attack. Sadly, Carol was in a wedding in New York and no one informed her of her sister’s heart attack until she arrived home and her sister had passed away.
Now Carol’s mom lives about five minutes away from her.
“My mom is living her best life right now. Her life has become a full circle moment. Now she is relishing in the joy.”
Next I interview AmiCietta Clark, who escaped the civil war in Liberia when she was 12. She adapted to life in New York City and excelled, getting a full scholarship to Cornell University. But she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune disease, during her last year of law school, causing her to experience blurred and double vision and strength and balance problems. After overcoming her disease by changing her diet and lifestyle, AmiCietta founded Clean Body Living, a holistic health coaching practice that helps women with autoimmune diseases and other chronic illnesses shift their mindset to own the power in their healing journey.
After AmiCietta comes my first-ever series of author interviews. The theme will be resilient characters. I’m interviewing authors of both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m really excited about this series!
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